My memories of Imphal from 1941
- Part 4 -

Dr Mohendra Irengbam *

Johnstone Hr Sec School :: 20 February 2020
Johnstone Hr Sec School on 20 February 2020 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Manipur may not be the most poetic land in the world. It may not be as captivating as the three snow-capped peaks of Kanchenjunga that turn orange in the glow of the rising sun on most clear mornings. But writing about Manipur's simple history and its people is joyous, meandering through its lanes and bylanes with my awareness of its past old days.

It remained virtually untouched and unconnected with modern civilisation until the Japanese put an end to it in WWII in 1942. I retrospectively fill this account by grasping what I know and what I knew then a gist of the immense social change of what had already passed, and what I see now.

The source of appeal for me to scribe something of Manipur's saga harking back 80 years in its sulky intransigence during the British rule and just after, is not far to fathom. It is partly because Meiteis are unique in their temper and disposition. They are usually caustic and quick on their feet and there is the idiosyncratic rhythms and palpable images of Meiteis of yonder years.

They have been living behind the modern ways, ideas and paradigms in a tiny cosmic world of their own.I have thus expanded in this memoir, the remit to include a few interesting men and some women of substance, in the immediate pre and post WWII.

First, continuing with our Uripok Road leading to Ibotonsana School. The excavated road sides remained like interrupted moats filled with water and had a lot of Ngaprum (eels). Some Kabui men often came and caught them. There were rows of tall trees known as koubilia along Uripok Road and other roads elsewhere.

My father told me that they were called koubilias as they were brought from Kabul to hold the raised soil of the roads by their roots. It is a bit like the beautiful Baramulla Road in Kashmir with tall poplar trees on both sides. These trees had their branches lopped every year to make them grow taller. It was a treat to suck nectar from the clusters of their little dark yellow flowers.

At the end of schooling at Ibotonsana School, the children took a common qualifying examination for entry to the Upper Primary School (UPS) for Class III and IV. Those from Uripok and around, went to Thangmeiband UPS (Upper Primary School). For the next higher class, they had to sit another qualifying exam for entry to a high school that taught from class V to X. There were three High Schools.

Johnstone was a Government school. Churachand, located near the Palace and Tombisana at Uripok, were private. There was a Bengali High School by the main road, on the way to Yaiskul. Though it was mainly for children of Bengali Babus (gentlemen) who lived at nearby Babupara, a few Meitei boys went to it. My friend the Late N Nishikanta from Moirangkhom went there.

The top few successful students at the common UPS exam, were selected for Johnstone (it used to be 50 and at my time it was 100). The rest spilled out to the other two, the second best being Churachand. I was in the first batch after WWII in 1946. At my time at Johnstone, Konjengbam Gouro Singh BA was the Headmaster and Chingakham Pishak Singh BA at Churachand.

At that time, someone with a BA degree was regarded as highly educated. There were a couple or so Meiteis, who were educated with a Master's degree like H Dijwamani Sharma from Nagamapal, and Sinam Krishnamohan MA, LB from Keisamthong, Imphal, who married Princess Tamphasana of Tamphasana Higher Secondary School connection.

I do not know what the school fees were as I was exempt being in the second position and the late Dr Elangbam Kuladhaja being the first in UPS exam. He retired as the Principal of the newly established Regional Medical College in Imphal. We both received a scholarship of 2 rupees each every month, with which we went to see a matinee show at a cinema Hall. There were many children's movies, such as Hunter Wali and Passing Shaw.

On completion of class X at these High Schools, students sat the Matriculation examination, initially under Calcutta University, and at my time, under Gauhati University. Those successful students were rated as First, Second and Third divisions in descending order, according to the marks they scored in the exam. There were no colleges in Imphal in the pre-War period. Only those who passed the matric exam, were considered 'educated' and were eligible for clerical and other Government jobs.

In those days, higher education for girls were frowned upon. Once they were able to read and write, they were taken out of school. By 1941, at least before the War, as I remember, the tradition changed. My third sister Modhu who was the class fellow of Arambam Saroj Nalini from Meino Leirak, Sagolband, went to Tamphasana High School with the ambition of going to college but was interrupted by the War, and was married away. Saroj went on to do her PhD from Australia.

She married an Englishman, John Parratt, who retired as a Professor of Theology in Birmingham University. Saroj and John have done a lot for Manipur by writing many books about Manipur's culture and history. Later in her life, she translated Cheitharol Kumbaba from the original in Meitei Mayek, and translated it into Queen's English. The book was titled 'The Court Chronicles of the kings of Manipur: The Cheitharol Kumpaba'. Copies are available in the British Library, London.

I usually don't have a great deal of positive things to say. For this one, I am putting my feelings into words. Saroj is like a galleon inserted into a bottle. Abandoned by many. She is like the elegy of the poem: chingda satpi engenlei chinnada kenkhiba, 'o' pamuida, 'o' pamuida[]. It is a shame that Engenlei (flower) that blooms in the hills, withers away without appreciation. All those years, Saroj had never forgotten Manipur.

Saroj came from a very talented family. Her younger brother Sharat was my contemporary. He wrote beautiful poems, collected posthumously in a book Sharat Arambamgi Khomjinba Sheirengsing (1978). Sarat was also songwriter for many of Nongmaithem Pahari's intricate melodies. Pahari is Mohamed Rafi of Meiteis.

Nalini's younger sister Meme, who is married to a distinguished gynaecologist Nambram Sarat from Nagamapal, writes poetry in Manipuri, both in Bengali script and Meitei Mayek, as well as in English. I have read her book Chillo Pamjana (2017). Taking a little literary latitude, Meme's poems are creative with serendipity but away from the 18th century romanticism of English poets.

Saroj's father, Arambam Ibungohal was known as Arambam 'Haosahib', because he was the administrator for the people of hill areas of Manipur, known as 'Hao' in those days. He was a modern radical, while the vast majority of Meiteis including my father, were orthodox Hindus.

An orthodox Hindu social system was represented by the caste system. Though Meiteis had no caste system, they were classified as Kshatriya, the warrior caste. As a result, they were to choose with whom and how they were to associate.

For better or worse, the annual intimate social gathering of Meiteis with Haos at Merahaochongba a mass gathering of hill-dwellers at the Kangla Konung from prehistory till the reign of Maharaja Bodhchandra in the month of Mera (October-November) with an interruption during the War, came to an end.

The festival coincided with Meitei mera wayungba and Mera thangmeithanba, which was sticking a tall bamboo at the centre of the shumang (courtyard) with an oil lamp burning with a wick in a small square shade with glasses on all four sides. The lamp had to be pulled up every evening with a thin rope on a pulley to its top for a month. This was perceived to be a beacon light to guide our ancestors who are looking down from up and above high in the sky to their progeny's homes.

As the reshaping of Meitei tradition began to impact on the socio-cultural, economic and political dynamics, some educated parents including mine, began to rethink about female education. Many girls began to be educated at the only Tamphasana Girls' High School. It was then inevitable that these girls made their own sartorial choices, such as wearing their phanek (Meitei women's dress) around their waist (phanek khoidom setpa). Unlike the uneducated ones, they defied the old traditional Moirang Thoibi hairstyle for unmarried girls, which has recently been made fashionable for some, by none-other than the lovely Mangka Mayanglangbam.

Mangka, a country music singer, became famous overnight after her song and dance performance at the 8th Manipur International Polo Tournament in Imphal in 2014. My wife, my son and I watched her breathtaking performance.

For that we remain indebted to Col (Rtd) M Ranjit Singh, President of Manipur Equestrian Association, and Vice President of Manipur Horse Riding & Polo Association, from Keisamthong, and the Vice President RK Dilip of Manipur Horse Riding & Polo Association, from Singjamei Mathak, who jointly researched to find a scholar in the origin of Manipur Polo games and who was able to write the lyrics of her song, Hadasamadon Ayangba []. The credit goes to the late Sri B Jayantakumar Sharma of Nahabam Leikai, Brahmapur, who composed the theme of the song.

Although I sincerely apologise for our Hinduised ancestors' racial profiling, I find it hard to blame them. They simply disassociated themselves from those communities that ate meat, including cow's meat. Cows are sacred to Hindus. Though I am against any established religion, I still do not eat beef as my mother worshipped the cows on the day of Goverdhan Puja.

This is the celebration of the day when boy Krishna saved the people of Brindaban from rain, light and thunder by lifting the Goverdhan Hill on the tip of his little finger. The incident is seen to represent how Lord Krishna will protect all devotees who take singular refuge in him.

Meiteis themselves were degraded. The Mayang Brahmins brought the master-servant relationship to the Meiteis. Before the War, all Meiteis had to address the Brahmins as "Agya" (Sanskrit). In Urdu 'hukum kijiye'. It means 'May I have your order please'. Even in the years just after the War, I had to bow my head and touch the floor with my right arm whenever a Brahmin came to our house.

He would then say 'Jai Jai'. This draws me to my nephew Irengbam Debendra Singh, a full Colonel in the Indian Army. Once My wife, daughter Anita and I, visited him at his Regiment at Kota near Chittorgarh in Rajasthan. Chittorgarh has the largest fort in India, and is famous for Rajput chivalry and its famous Queen Padmini with her matchless beauty. Whenever Deben drove his Commander's jeep with us and passed through the Regiment's gate, the Guards saluted him, saying "Jai Hind, Sahib'. He responded saying "Jai, Jai".

* Dr Mohendra Irengbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on October 24 2020 .

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Chiuluan village, Tamenglong #2: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 03 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Genuine Peace or Politicking : FNR
  • Disability is not limited to the body
  • Online interaction session with law students
  • Education and the 'cultural hegemony'
  • Nongpok Sekmai- best Police Station
  • World Disability Day held at RGU
  • Keeping ST status demand off the spotlight
  • Fate of Act East Policy after RCEP
  • Langban Lam-Haiba @ Andro #2: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • Eyek Tamba :: Learn the Manipuri script
  • Governor & IM may trigger bigger crisis
  • Overview of Crime & Mental Disorder
  • International Day for Abolition of Slavery
  • Kaleidoscope of life :: Poem
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • Chain sequence of violating SOPs
  • Radio Drama In Manipur #1
  • COVID-19 Status 01 Dec : Govt of Manipur
  • COVID-19 Meeting with CM [Dec 1] :: Gallery
  • Chaningkhomba, Shehhaothang: eMing
  • Ending AIDS is human right to health
  • Online Essay Writing Competition (2020-21)
  • Stomach Cancer: Cases very high in NE
  • Time to read between the lines
  • Filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar #3
  • COVID-19 Status 30 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • December Calendar for Year 2020 : Tools
  • Winter Relief conducted in Imphal :: Gallery
  • Survival story of displaced fisherfolks told
  • Admin / Business Support at DCS
  • Civil Engineer at R-Square Design
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Winter Relief conducted around Imphal
  • Raising ST demand ahead of Shah's visit
  • Ningol Chakouba @ Imphal #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 29 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • My memories of Imphal from 1941 #8
  • El Diego dies just to be etched in history
  • Coffin of 'pre-Hinduism' era found at Malom
  • Divine soulmates :: Poem
  • Phanek Mayek Naiba with computerised m/c
  • Night curfew to combat COVID-19
  • Sory Wahengbam - Actress Gallery :: eRang
  • COVID-19 Status 28 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Naga Peace Solution and Manipur
  • RNYO & RNSO expound on its position
  • Tips for farmers on using pesticides
  • Ambitious Indian women- myth or reality ?
  • Last Day : Sangai Fest 2019 #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 27 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Celebration Of Constitution Day
  • Enrollment for Science Olympiads 2021
  • Equally in pandemic
  • Indian Constitution: A document that protects
  • Webinar: Sports Coaching Education
  • Haunting Imphal based media
  • NE Indigenous Women Peace Congregation
  • Ramification Of Manipur's Merger With India
  • The Dying Green Gold of Manipur: Bamboo
  • Ima Keithel - A Lament :: Poem
  • Working whether from office/home is important
  • Beauty care for the winter bride
  • Date with Shah : Not just another visit
  • Ningol Chakouba @ Thanga #1: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Manipur State Journalist Award #2: Gallery
  • Manipur War Heroes deported to Kalapani
  • One match & two Man of the Match
  • Capacity building program for Juvenile Justice
  • Filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar #2
  • COVID-19 Status 24 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Significance of Ningol Chakkouba festival
  • Stigma, Pandemic & Mental Health Issues
  • Executive Meeting, National Sports University
  • Licypriya wins TN Khoshoo Memorial Award
  • ADB Univ pays tribute to Tarun Gogoi
  • Amit Shah's impending visit to Manipur
  • Muhammad Abdur Rahman: His life & works
  • COVID-19 Status 23 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • 9th Loktak Arson Commemoration Day
  • Brown manuring for effective weed mgmt
  • Possible education trajectory after COVID-19
  • Memo to Union Education Minister on MU
  • Mantra of test, trace, treat
  • Something is still fishy
  • Mera Houchongba @ Konung #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 22 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • National Unity Day 2020 : Gallery
  • Marriage is no child's play
  • Lady of the House :: Poem
  • A musing on BJP's social upliftment cell
  • Solution must not be undone by dissolution
  • Meitei Inclusivity & Arrival of Thadou Kukis #2
  • COVID-19 Status 21 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • SRISTI-GYTI : Young Tech Innovation Awards
  • SITARE-GYTI : Projects in biotechnology
  • Irang : A bridge not too far
  • Become an NTSE scholar
  • Toll Free Helpline for Children Counselling
  • Condemns move to impose Sanskrit
  • Unwanted season again for no good reason
  • By-election @ Wangoi AC #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 20 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Retired IPS officer recounts violent period
  • Rural Dreams :: Poem
  • Understanding issues of foreign prisoners
  • AFSPA - Armed forces special power Act
  • Reiterate demand to rollback PDA decision
  • Date with Amit Shah on Nov 29
  • The making of a New India
  • Filmmaker Haobam Paban Kumar #1
  • COVID-19 Status 19 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2020 #5: Gallery
  • Land Commission essential before 6th Sched..
  • A little nobody trying to save everybody
  • Why some people get more acne in winter
  • 95 more positive cases found at Wangoi AC
  • Center losing track on Naga Peace Process
  • Ningol Chakouba @ Imphal #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 18 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Manipur State Journalist Award #1: Gallery
  • Ningol Chakouba: Thailand Ningol letter
  • NE Indigenous Women Peace Congregation
  • CSI State Student Convention, Assam
  • What I saw from my window ?
  • Growing number of infected & deaths
  • Are we ignoring our courageous mothers
  • Ningols on way to mapam lamdam : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 17 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Kuki Nationalism & Political Aspiration : Report
  • COVID 19 patient delivers a healthy baby
  • Amur Falcon - A thanksgiving! :: Poem
  • Gender sensitization with law may prove good..
  • House of Poumai in Senapati : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 16 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Licypriya to address at Mock COP26 UK
  • Social Media and Negativism !
  • Career option in jewellery designing
  • Condemn arrest of student leader in Manipur
  • Morning walk wisdom
  • 'Roll back tax levied on petroleum'
  • My memories of Imphal from 1941 #7
  • COVID-19 Status 15 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Ningol Chakkouba : A beautiful tradition
  • Ramification Of Manipur's Merger With India
  • Traditional medicinal herb 'Nong-mang-kha'
  • Education and employment
  • The Ani Thokpi culture of the people
  • Potsangbam Tomal Singh (1903 - 1999)
  • COVID-19 Status 14 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • 'Stop the practice of locking of offices'
  • Delights of Diwali :: Poem
  • World Diabetes Day 2020
  • Bond is dead, long live James
  • Make this festive season more memorable
  • By-election @ Wangoi AC #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 13 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Let difficulties know that you are too difficult..
  • Buy local this Diwali
  • Assam-Mizoram inter State border dispute
  • Beauty tips for the perfect Diwali look
  • Rolling out the red carpet for COVID-19
  • Fulfill the promises Mr. CM
  • CM to be taken into confidence ?
  • Chiuluan village, Tamenglong #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 12 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Swearing-in of MLAs [Nov 12] : Gallery
  • Cut off and castigated
  • Apathy makes MPSC immune to accountability
  • 'Roll back increase taxation on petrol'
  • Saving democracy
  • Radio Play: social awareness media #2
  • COVID-19 Status 11 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Veg-in-a-Basket for Ningol Chakouba
  • Academic Council Meeting, NSU, Imphal
  • Lung Cancer: Most common cancer worldwide
  • Disaster risk reduction as career
  • National Education Day at RGU, Doimukh
  • Shopping for Covid ?
  • Left or Right: complex politics of India
  • COVID patient cast vote @Wangoi : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 10 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Swearing-in of M Rameshwar : Gallery
  • Consequence- massive flouting of protocols
  • Ramification Of Manipur's Merger With India
  • English Bye :: Poem
  • Conflict situation & investment atmosphere
  • Four out of five in by elections
  • Significance of the By-election result
  • By-election @ Wangoi AC #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 09 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Being vegetarian- hope for a brighter future
  • Observance of National Legal Services Day
  • General Manager NF Railway meet CM N Biren
  • One Rank One Pension (OROP)
  • Demand withdrawal of unjustified fees
  • Politically crucial by polls for some
  • Something needs to be added at RP act
  • Meitei Inclusivity & Arrival of Thadou Kukis #1
  • COVID-19 Status 08 Nov : Govt of Manipur
  • Children celebrates b'day by distributing PPE
  • Can E-government curb corruption ?
  • Extempore Speech Competition at Bengoon
  • Sinking boat :: Poem
  • Multiple Positions wanted at SAS Manipur
  • By poll over, now focus on the virus
  • Covid Block at Raj Medicity : Gallery
  • Ningthoujam Raghumani in 2% Indian Scientist
  • My memories of Imphal from 1941 #6
  • Autumn rain :: Poem
  • Devil inside my head
  • Dedicated Covid Block at Raj Medicity
  • Radio Play: social awareness media #1
  • IBSD Director, listed among top 2% scientist
  • Gyanendro Ningombam : Hockey India Prez
  • Fix it or be as it is
  • Manipur comes first any day
  • Out Surchandra, in Rameshwar
  • Shifting of Rani Gaidinliu Museum
  • Mera Houchongba @ Konung #2 : Gallery
  • Poster Distribution on COVID-19 : Gallery
  • Champu-Khangpok pledge to protect Loktak
  • What a life ? :: Poem
  • Can India achieve a $ 5 trillion economy
  • Preparing for post Covid era
  • Free and fair by-election: a blatant lie
  • Longa Koireng in Autumn : Gallery
  • Training on mushroom @ Moirang : Gallery
  • Meitei Pangal's 4% Reservation in Hr Edu
  • ADBU Prof listed among Top Scientists
  • Beauty benefits of amla
  • NH7 Weekender announces lineup
  • DESAM, AIMS, ANSAM on target
  • Ramification: Manipur's Merger With India
  • Untimely demise of Ksh Borish : Gallery
  • Admission- MSc Food Tech at CFTRI Mysuru
  • Is the inevitable on its way ?
  • Blood Donation Camp at Loktak Project
  • Mind, Body, Soul- Let there be imbalance!
  • Condemn Police delay to arrest in rape case
  • Play the Pena !
  • Demise of Ksh Borish, student at IISER, Pune
  • Winter Vegetable Seeds Distribution : Gallery
  • Mera Houchongba @ Konung #1 : Gallery
  • General strike at Minuthong #2: Gallery
  • Bhagyachandra Anniv @Nabadwip : Gallery
  • Tarao Laimanai in Chandel #3 : Gallery
  • Yubi Lakpi Manipur indigenous game: Gallery
  • Downloadable Manipuri Calendar :: 2021
  • COVID Care Centre @UNACCO #2: Gallery
  • Brahmacharimayum Roji: Actress #2 : eRang
  • 'Zehara' - Manipuri Movie :: eRang Classic